RSOTY 2019: TNT Records Interview
It’s been a breathtaking 12 months for the sibling duo behind TNT Records in Barrow. Just a year after opening, they’re Long Live Vinyl’s Record Shop Of The Year, and they’re already talking about expanding…
When brothers Dave and Dan Turner achieved the lifelong dream of opening a record shop in their home town of Barrow last Christmas, they can’t have dreamed that three days later they’d have sold every new release in the store. TNT Records’ doors opened on 22 December 2018 and by the time the Turners were tucking in to their turkey and sprouts on Christmas Day, they’d shifted some 400 records. A further 12 months later, they’re celebrating being named Long Live Vinyl’s second Record Shop Of The Year.
Everything happened in fast-forward this time last year for Dave and Dan, both die-hard music fans who’d grown up playing in bands around the Cumbrian town, once they spotted the site on Duke Street. “The shop’s on the main strip in Barrow, a nice high-end street with three- and four-storey buildings,” says Dave. “We couldn’t have imagined a building like this. It was now or never time. We went to see it on 14 December and by the 15th we had the keys and had started work on the custom-built listening room.
“We opened six days later. We had three joiners in working 24-hour shifts, friends and family helping and at one point I stayed up for 48 hours. We opened on 22 December and by Christmas Day the whole of the new section was empty, we’d sold probably 400 new records. We had to rethink the situation and get bigger distributors straightaway.
“We had 5,000 pre-owned records, too. We’d been archiving for six months prior to opening the shop, I had half my dad’s house full of records, my brother’s house was full of records and then the shop cropped up. It’s been insane.”
Just minutes into our conversation with the brothers on a crisp November afternoon, as customers steadily come and go, all greeted by their first name and treated like old friends, their enthusiasm is infectious. The reasons why so many of our readers voted for a shop in a town of 50,000 people on the fringes of the Lake District are abundantly clear.
“It’s what the town has needed for years,” says Dave. “There were a couple of little CD stalls in the town before, but anything close to a record shop selling vinyl was a three-hour round trip. You’d have to go to Preston or Manchester. Barrow is in the middle of nowhere. We’re an hour away from the motorway, a couple of hours from Manchester and Carlisle. So when you open a business like this, people support you and get behind it. That’s a good reason why we’ve established ourselves in such a short time.
“People come in and offer me more money than we’re charging. They can get their records with the click of a button online, but they’d rather come in here. I know most of the customers by first name.” Right on cue, one of those customers finishes flipping through the TNT Record racks, waves us goodbye and makes his way towards the door. “Thanks Oliver, cheers mate,” says Dave warmly.
“People come in and leave much happier, they’re more than just a transaction to us. It’s about having that personal touch, and since day one people have wanted to be a part of TNT Records, and want it to stay around. We’re Barrow born and bred, we’ve been in bands and toured Europe and gained knowledge over time, but for years there’s been nowhere in Barrow to buy vinyl. We’ve been wanting to open a shop like this for over 10 years now, it’s been a dream of ours and we’re purely driven by our passion. Vinyl never left us from the 80s. We were brought up with vinyl and the passion for music runs through our blood. We bend over backwards for our customers and we’re living the dream. The shop’s on fire.
“We’ve hit the ground running and it’s just what the town and the local area needed. There’s so much demand for vinyl. We’re in shock, it’s overwhelming.”
Stepping into TNT from Barrow’s main drag, you’re confronted by an inviting space with bare-brick walls and a high ceiling, the extensive pre-owned section to the left, and fast-expanding new records area to the right. In the comfortable listening room, equipped with Rega turntables and a selection of headphones and speakers, pictures of Elvis, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix look down on you. This is a place built and presided over by two men who live for music and are seizing their opportunity. Dave, who works 12-hour shifts in the shop, says he hasn’t had a day off in the 12 months since TNT opened.
“Every sort of genre sells in the shop,” he says proudly. “It’s anything from jazz to metal, brand new releases… limited editions and coloured items, people are thankful and humble, just like we are. We’re northern working-class people.”
“The customers are everyone. I’ve sold pirate metal to a seven-year-old, people coming in with their grandparents, people who don’t know anything about vinyl at all, it goes from seven-year-olds up to 85-year-olds wanting Elvis and jazz. We get collectors coming in who’re just interested in one artist… it’s just brilliant.
“A lot of the collections we’ve got haven’t seen the light of day for 30 or 40 years and we’ve got loads of first editions in the shop. We don’t sell CDs, we don’t need to, it’s an obsolete format now. Vinyl is the way forward and with our listening room people come in and try records before they buy. We even have people who don’t own record players, who have their own box of vinyl in the listening room. They come in every week, put on their records, have a cup of tea and just chill.”
Like most good community record shops in small towns, TNT offers more than just a place to buy vinyl. As well as the rehearsal space for local bands, listening room and music lessons, the shop hosts weekly acoustic nights on Fridays, Vinyl Revival author Graham Jones was a recent visitor and Oasis and Verve photographer Brian Cannon is booked in for an appearance this month. It’s a cherished facility for music lovers, and the brothers already have an eye on expansion as they try to sate the town’s thirst for records.
“We wanted to open a shop that offered vinyl, band merchandise, turntables, rehearsal space and be a more of a hub,” says Dave. “I’m just loving it. To be honest, what else would I be doing if I took a day off? I’d only come down the shop! We want to expand upstairs, we’ve got a few ideas and different options. We’ve got three floors of gold here with the practice rooms and listening room, and we’re halfway through building a low-cost recording studio, it’s amazing. We need more space, we need to expand and go upstairs and there’ll be more vinyl up there.”
With their inexhaustible energy, it’s hard to see how the Turner brothers can fail. TNT is the perfect example of why small communities need record shops – and what a success story those shops can become when they’re embraced by the communities they serve.
We’ll leave Dan with the final word: “We want to sincerely thank all the customers for their support,” he says with a broad smile. “Vinyl is back and it’s massive again. The support we have received has been absolutely amazing. We’ve got a website, but we simply haven’t had the time to put any records on it, we’re that busy in the shop. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that local community and the support we get. It’s been overwhelming.”